Beautiful the musical in Woking – the story of Carole King: As a line in the show uttered by her character says ‘I’m just a normal person, who wants to hear a normal person sing?’ Clearly the packed theatre confirmed they did and were interested to hear the story of one of the most successful songwriters of the 20th Century woven around the songs that made her so famous first as a writing partner with her then husband Gerry Goffin and later as a solo writer and performer.
Jukebox musicals are always popular. Whilst telling their story they allow the audience to add their own memories associated to the songs they share. As a vehicle to encompass, especially for those who may not know and assign the credit to performer rather than writers, the vast catalogue and contribution King made to modern music it serves so well.
The story centres at first around her relationship with Gerry Goffin (Kane Oliver Parry) and as part of the songwriting stable of impresario Donnie Kirshner (Adam Howden) they compete with friends Cynthia Weil (Amy Ellen Richardson) and Barry Mann (Matthew Gonsalves), as to who can produce the most hits. Including their work which was often then taken up by Phil Spector’s artists gave an added, welcome dimension to the piece – hearing the basic versions of songs pre Spector orchestration allowed the imagination to add that in and remember The Ronettes, Darlene Love, The Crystals, Righteous Brothers and the finished songs.
The friendships between King, Kirshner, Weil and Mann seemed to sustain her through troubled times with Goffin. His frustration at feeling inadequate in the wake of the new artists playing their own work and poets such as Dylan coming on the scene as well as his behaviour in the marriage finally contributed to its end and in a heartening scene her mother reminds her that she did write lyrics once and could again.
Her success in her own right came quickly after and the show tracks her reticence at being a performer to her concert at Carnegie Hall.
I admit to being still at odds with some of the songwriters I like getting the big musical treatment, though on the other hand happy to see people get deserved recognition I haven’t yet seen how ‘musical walking’ fits in – a style of sashaying across the stage that is so prevalent. Let’s face it though, if we don’t see it in real life that is only because we are all doing it in our heads going up the bread aisle at Asda and down the escalators in the Peacocks centre. It’s not just me…everyone does it, definitely.
I liked that it celebrated a diffident success “I’m just a normal person’ a person who had such a talent that she couldn’t not do it and who wrote regardless of fame, whose songs have provided a soundtrack to more than one generation even if they were flashbacks – The Locomotion- I remember jumping up on stage with the band at my sister’s wedding shouting that out, loudly, out of tune for three minutes – whatever- people danced and next day they did a whip round for singing lessons for me – never looked back- ha doubters! Anyway back in the room, Take Good Care of My Baby – sending that via private messenger to a teenage daughter’s boyfriend because I am so hilarious, a view not shared by her – philistines to my comedy. I Feel The Earth Move – doing an aerobics class, leg warmers (remember them) doing a grapevine in the wrong direction and knocking the rest of my line down like dominos, my sister (different sister, I keep spares) rolling her eyes and pretending she didn’t know me Around the theatre people were happily engaged in their own reminiscence.
As a vehicle to celebrate her work it, for those who know of it, and to present just how much she did for all those who didn’t realise, it is excellent. The early pop tunes to the later more introspective work and (ahem..) darker indictments of surburbia like Pleasant Valley Sunday and her release of an updated version of One Small Voice in 2017 on Donald Trump’s inauguration track her career. The cast were dynamic, especially Bronte Barbe in the lead role who reprised her poignantly, you really felt for innocent Carole who wanted to do the best for everyone. At times when the ensembles were singing the sound was very bright and as it only occurred when it was groups on the stage in big numbers – it seemed as if the performers couldn’t hear themselves over the music or the frequency was high, perhaps something only from the first night.
If it were to be said to be a musical about Carole King that centred more around her marriage than her work it wouldn’t be true, the King/Goffin collaboration was a success, it is also a celebration of friendship, You’ve Got A Friend seemed to sum up what her songs have done for people; been there in all aspects of their lives, and her attitude to her work and talent. I went with a friend, felt very friendy when that came on then I accidentally burped and looked at her in disgust so she would get the blame – as I said, friendship.
Beautiful – The Carole King Musical runs from Tues 27 February to Sat 3 March 2018 for tickets contact http://www.atgtickets.com/woking 08448717645